Copernicus Picks the Dead Celebrity

A few weeks ago I finished reading Time Travel in Einstein’s Universe by J. Richard Gott III and the most interesting chapter had little to do with time travel. Gott figured out a way to predict how long something will last and all you have to know is how long it has been around so far. The prediction is based on the Copernican Priniciple

In the 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus pointed out that the Earth revolved about the Sun, rather than vice versa, and in one swift move, displaced humanity from its privileged place at the centre of the Universe. We now see the Earth as circling an unexceptional star among thousands of millions of others in our unexceptional Galaxy. This perspective is summed up more generally in the “Copernican Principle”, which is the position that one’s location is unlikely to be special.

The likelyhood of us being unspecial can help us predict how long some things will last. The duration ranges are huge (he said the space program would last between 10 months and 1248 years), but it’s great for estimating extremely unknown durations like how long humans will be around (he guesses between 5,100 years and 7.8 million years).

If you’re confused you can read more about it.

To test this guy’s theory out, I’m going to do an experiment with the lifespans of celebrities. I tried my best to randomly pick 50 actors and actresses and based on Gott’s calculations, one of them should die before their expected time. This is a reverse application of the formula, but it should work. Read on for the list.We know, thanks to Copernicus, that today is probably an unspecial day in my life and the lives of the celebrities listed below. In fact, we can say this is an unspecial day for 98% of the people below if we define “special” as the last 2% of someone’s lifespan. That leaves one person (1/50) who is living in a special time – the end of their life. Honestly, I picked these at random and I don’t know of any health conditions or problems they might have, other than cowbell fever.

Once a person lives past the value in his or her “days” column, they’ll have made it through the experiment even if they drop dead the next day.

The oldest person on the list is John Cleese, who must live for another 473 days to survive the experiment. That will be September 27, 2004.

Thora Birch is the youngest out of the group and will survive the experiment after 158 days. That day will be November 17, 2003.

Name Percentage Start Date Days End Date
Thora Birch 98.00% 06/12/03 158 11/17/03
Natalie Portman 98.00% 06/12/03 163 11/22/03
Ashton Kutcher 98.00% 06/12/03 188 12/17/03
Sarah Michelle Geller 98.00% 06/12/03 194 12/23/03
Charlize Theron 98.00% 06/12/03 207 01/05/04
Angelina Jolie 98.00% 06/12/03 208 01/06/04
Juliette Lewis 98.00% 06/12/03 223 01/21/04
Gwyneth Paltrow 98.00% 06/12/03 228 01/26/04
Cameron Diaz 98.00% 06/12/03 229 01/27/04
Winona Ryder 98.00% 06/12/03 235 02/02/04
Jenna Elfman 98.00% 06/12/03 236 02/03/04
Luke Wilson 98.00% 06/12/03 236 02/03/04
Ewan McGregor 98.00% 06/12/03 239 02/06/04
Ethan Hawke 98.00% 06/12/03 242 02/09/04
Jennifer Lopez 98.00% 06/12/03 244 02/11/04
Uma Thurman 98.00% 06/12/03 246 02/13/04
Christian Slater 98.00% 06/12/03 251 02/18/04
Anne Heche 98.00% 06/12/03 253 02/20/04
Jack Black 98.00% 06/12/03 254 02/21/04
Renee Zellweger 98.00% 06/12/03 254 02/21/04
Lucy Liu 98.00% 06/12/03 257 02/24/04
Julia Roberts 98.00% 06/12/03 265 03/03/04
Will Ferrel 98.00% 06/12/03 267 03/05/04
Adam Sandler 98.00% 06/12/03 273 03/11/04
Halle Berry 98.00% 06/12/03 274 03/12/04
Chris Rock 98.00% 06/12/03 278 03/16/04
Ben Stiller 98.00% 06/12/03 279 03/17/04
Keanu Reeves 98.00% 06/12/03 288 03/26/04
Courtney Cox 98.00% 06/12/03 290 03/28/04
Brad Pitt 98.00% 06/12/03 294 04/01/04
Edie Falco 98.00% 06/12/03 297 04/04/04
Helen Hunt 98.00% 06/12/03 297 04/04/04
Jodie Foster 98.00% 06/12/03 302 04/09/04
Craig Kilborn 98.00% 06/12/03 303 04/10/04
Jim Carrey 98.00% 06/12/03 308 04/15/04
Julianne Moore 98.00% 06/12/03 316 04/23/04
David Duchovny 98.00% 06/12/03 319 04/26/04
Kevin Spacey 98.00% 06/12/03 326 05/03/04
Bernie Mac 98.00% 06/12/03 332 05/09/04
Jon Lovitz 98.00% 06/12/03 341 05/18/04
Ray Liotta 98.00% 06/12/03 353 05/30/04
Whoopie Goldberg 98.00% 06/12/03 354 05/31/04
Kevin Costner 98.00% 06/12/03 360 06/06/04
Denzel Washington 98.00% 06/12/03 360 06/06/04
James Belushi 98.00% 06/12/03 364 06/10/04
Tim Allen 98.00% 06/12/03 372 06/18/04
Sigourney Weaver 98.00% 06/12/03 399 07/15/04
Kathy Bates 98.00% 06/12/03 409 07/25/04
Christopher Walken 98.00% 06/12/03 448 09/02/04
John Cleese 98.00% 06/12/03 473 09/27/04
All Above Have Passed


10 responses to “Copernicus Picks the Dead Celebrity”

  1.  Avatar

    Christopher Walken, on finding out he has the longest time period to get through the experiment:

    “For a person of my age, to have as much hair as I do is great. I think it’s one of my best features. I’m pleased with my hair. I’ve got great hair. I believe that, regardless of the reults of this, this thesis…this exploration into time and mortality by a fine young man with the ability to converse with pizza, the greatness of my hair shall not falter.”

    (mildly altered quote found on a geocities site)


  2. I just hope there is enough cowbell to cure his fever.

  3.  Avatar

    I’m curious to see if this would pan out, but I don’t expect I have the patience.
    Here’s more to consider. To oversimplify, on average, basically we expect one of these people dead within a year. The application of the theory is not scientific though, because however random, this is a cross-section of people who have a presumed level of health by already living to adulthood.
    For instance, take a centegenarian. That person now 100, odds say he’ll probably make it to 105, by simply having reached 100 already. I could be wrong next week when Jenna Elfman overdoses on prilosec, but I’m betting they all make it past their days.
    John S.

  4. “I don’t expect I have the patience.”

    That’s why I’ll be here to update you guys on it.

    What’s interesting about the formula is that you don’t need to know anything about what you’re predicting other than how long it has been around. You can certainly make better educated guesses about how long someone will live, based on their health, family history, lifestyle, life expectancy statistics, etc.

    If you look at the guy who is 100 years old, yeah the formula predicts he’ll have a 98% chance of reaching 102. Knowing what we know about the human body, I don’t know many people who would put money on that. Let’s say he kicks it at 101. If you went back and applied the formula for every year of his life, 98% of the time it would have been right. The only time it wouldn’t work would be that last 2%.

  5.  Avatar

    The smart money is on Mick Mars for that one….

  6. If you die and then they revive you, that doesn’t count.

  7.  Avatar

    Sadly, though it is an interesting experiment, it will not work….Odds are that all of the celebraties will live past the expiration date. The Copernican Principle can only be held valid on an astronomically large scale…yes theoretically the equations as you ran them comply, but generally speaking you have a 95% chance of having one in 50 fail (I know that sounds like it makes no sense, and on a scale as small as a human lifespan it doesn’t, but on an astronomical scale it works perfectly). Also, time specifically, cannot be held as isometric (homogenious, yes) on such a large scale….hence we see the fartheset galaxies of the universe receeding from us, even though any given point P in the universe should look the same if viewed from any direction….which it does on an astronomical scale. The only exception to this could be the Uncertainty Principle, which basically states that anything is possible on an infinite scale. Therefore, if you throw and egg an infinite number of times, at least once that egg will make a u-turn in mid air. Subsequently, the theory also states that in an infinite number of tries all of your celbs will die by the end of today. or not. Sorry to waste so much space.

  8. You sound like you know what you’re talking about.

    It should actually be a 98% chance, since I divided by 49 and threw out the upper bound that Gott uses. According to the theory we should see 1 out of 50 fail unless this is a special time in human history that leads to an extraordinary breakthrough in human lifespan.

    Anyone want to make any wagers?

  9. One more thing. The experiment also fails if the world blows up, but then that gets me out of any bets. We’ll call that the house advantage.

  10. If it has to be one of them, I hope its Sarah Michelle Geller.